The men taken into custody were not immediately charged in the sniper attacks, but authorities made it clear the arrests were considered pivotal.
John Allen Williams, 40 and his stepson John Malvo, 17, were arrested by a SWAT team after being sighted at a Frederick County, Md., rest area sleeping in a blue, 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.
President Bush was told that federal authorities were reasonably sure the case had been solved, a senior administration official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Police put out an APB for the Caprice late Wednesday night following an FBI and ATF search in a Tacoma, Wa., neighborhood.
A search was also performed by both agencies at a commercial para-military training ground in Alabama.
Montgomery, Al., Chief of Police John Wilson spoke to reporters Thursday morning in front of an ABC store where a man shot two women Sept. 21.
“We still are not clear exactly what the connection will be or if there will be any connection at all” to the shootings in the Washington, D.C.-area, Wilson said. A composite sketch of the shooter in Alabama was made, and when asked if it matched one of the suspects arrested in Maryland, Wilson said “I would say that there are some very good similarities, yes.”
Wilson said his department was contacted Sunday night by task force members about a caller who referred to the shooting in Alabama. It is possible that the caller confused Montgomery, Ala., with Montgomery County, Md., Wilson said, stating repeatedly that it was too soon to draw any conclusions.
Wilson wanted to clear up some misinformation, saying that no credit card or not were found at the Alabama site. The gun used in Alabama was not the same gun used in the shootings in the Washington, D.C. area.
Wilson said his department had “quite a bit” of evidence but would not provide details. He said his department did not release information about fingerprints on a car hood, but would not say if they had any fingerprints.
But a law enforcement source told the AP that police found a piece of paper at the scene that bore the fingerprints of John Lee Malvo, one of the men wanted for questioning in connection with the serial shootings.
In the Alabama shooting, two officers were across the street and heard the shot, Wilson said. They saw a man standing over the two victims, rifling through a purse, Wilson said. The shooter fled on foot, and one officer chased him, coming within two feet of him, but ultimately lost him.
One woman died; the other is recovering well, Wilson said. She was shot in the base of the head in the back, Wilson said. She has been “instrumental” in the case, Wilson said.
Montgomery, Ala., police were searching for a vehicle whose driver they believe may have seen the shooter, Wilson said. They would still like to talk to that person.
“We have a good case,” Wilson said. “Once we have a chance to interview any suspects, I think we can make an arrest.”
In Tacoma, neighbors told investigators that the former tenants had taken target practice in the backyard.
Pfc. Chris Waters, a Fort Lewis soldier who lives across the street, said he called police after hearing gunshots nearly every day in January.
It sounded like a high-powered rifle such as an M-16,” he said. Never more than three shots at a time. Pow. Pow. Pow.”
FBI agents swept the backyard with metal detectors before carting away a tree stump and other evidence in a U-Haul truck. The stump may have been used for target practice and was being taken to a federal lab for ballistics tests.
Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose announced shortly after midnight Thursday that Muhammad was wanted for questioning in connection with the sniper spree, calling him armed and dangerous.” The chief also complied with a curious request by the sniper to say: We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.”
The noose tightened at 1 a.m., when witnesses at the Maryland rest stop called police after they spotted the men sleeping inside one of the cars sought in the investigation – a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.
The sniper task force swept in and arrested the men without a struggle.
Anonymous pentagon sources said Williams, also known as Muhamad, was a soldier in the army. Details pertaining to his discharge are not known.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.